Newly-released figures show that the number of patients with COVID in English hospitals has dropped below 10,000 for the first time since November.
The figures, from NHS England, show there were 9,594 coronavirus patients in hospital in England as of 8am on Wednesday, 3 March – the first time it has dropped below 10,000 since 1 November when there were 9,623.
It is also a week-on-week drop of 26% from the 13,007 coronavirus patients in hospital in England on 24 February and a 72% drop from the peak of 34,336 coronavirus patients in hospital on 18 January.
There are more encouraging signs that the vaccine is having an effect as cases across the UK are down by more than 30% week-on-week, according to government data.
In the seven days up to 3 March, 50,208 people tested positive for coronavirus – 23,184 less than the previous week.
Test and Trace figures released on Thursday also show a significant drop in people who have tested positive for COVID.
A total of 68,738 people tested positive in England at least once in the week to 24 February 24 – down 19% on the previous week and the lowest number since the week to 30 September.
However, there was a slight drop in people reached and asked to provide details of recent close contacts.
Out of the 69,129 people transferred to the Test and Trace system in the week to 24 February, 88.5% were reached – down very slightly from 88.7% in the previous week.
While there has been some positive data, a survey has suggested that the decline of COVID infections in England is slowing down.
The Imperial College London’s React study has been analysing data from swab tests taken from people across England since May last year.
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It found that one in every 213 people is still testing positive for COVID, while in some parts of the country the rate of decline has plateaued and in places there are hints that rates are increasing
Experts have now urged people to stick to lockdown rules to give the vaccination programme “the best chance of working”.
They warned that if infection rates start to rise then people who are due their jab imminently may become infected.
Meanwhile, government data up to 2 March shows that of the 21,599,027 jabs given in the UK so far, 20,703,615 were first doses – a rise of 224,996 on the previous day.
Some 895,412 were second doses, an increase of 51,314 on figures released the previous day.
With the vaccine rollout continuing its rapid pace, the UK’s drugs regulator has said that modified jabs for variants are to be fast-tracked without skipping on safety or effectiveness.
The approach will be similar to the regulatory process for the modified flu vaccine, to deal with new strains each year, with a brand new approval not required.
Scientists have previously said a COVID variant resistant to the current crop of vaccines is likely to emerge at some point, but vaccines can also be adapted quickly.
The guidance states coronavirus vaccine manufacturers will need to provide robust evidence that the modified jab produces an immune response. However, lengthy clinical studies deemed not to add to the regulatory understanding of their safety, quality or effectiveness will not be needed.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said researchers are in a better position to measure protection by looking at antibodies in the blood after vaccination, reducing the need to wait and see whether or not people in a trial become infected with the virus.
It said this will “significantly reduce” the length of time it takes for the modified vaccine to be ready.
Dr Christian Schneider chief scientific officer at the MHRA, said: “Our priority is to get effective vaccines to the public in as short a time as possible, without compromising on safety.
“Should any modifications to authorised COVID-19 vaccines be necessary, this regulatory approach should help to do just that.”
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